Oath of the Gatewatch and First Week Format Fallacies

KevinJones

“This deck can’t beat ramp!”
“I’m under 50% in game ones against the ramp deck.”
“How’s your ramp matchup?”
“Buy every World Breaker you can with that store credit.”
“Can I borrow two Ugins, 3 Ulamogs, and a Kozilek?”
“Nope! I have 8 Mantis Riders though. One is Russian, one is Spanish, and one is signed by me.”

Soulfire Grand Master

Soulfire Grand Master – Fate Reforged

These are things people have said to me in the past few weeks. Except the last one, I quoted myself there because I’m every bit as unhinged as I am self-indulgent. But anyway, what were those people talking about? The sky is falling, the hunger is ceaseless, the distortion is great. People won’t stop talking about Eldrazi Ramp for Oath of the Gatewatch (singles here)standard. I’m still not sure how much I believe the hype. I want to write an article about the flawed thinking that people have in week one standard formats where they heavily hype new cards without leveling them against what would’ve held the spot previously. Not everything is an upgrade just because it’s new. Sometimes a new card eclipses a previous format or archetype staple. Even in these cases the cards are rarely strictly better than their predecessors and they’re often just better in a different set of situations. Soulfire Grand Master and Seeker of the Way are perfect examples. Seeker was the gold standard in the early format and was essential to the Jeskai strategies that were totally starved for two drops. Once Soulfire saw print many people saw it as a strict upgrade. It’s not. Soulfire is much better if you’re slanted towards the late game and more controlling. Seeker is better if you’re tapping out a bunch and trying to beat down. The deck shifted in identity from an aggressive burn based deck to a card advantage based aggro control deck that capitalizes on all its resources. Overall, Soulfire is a more powerful card than Seeker but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best fit for a specific deck in a given week.

Once a set is spoiled in full we all bust out our sharpies and make some new format standard decks to battle in between rounds at our local events or to use as a gauntlet to gauge the week one metagame. I’ve played with and against so many horrendous decks in this time period. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Play all the bad new cards. Learn that something is bad. Putting a new card in your deck as a 2 of is a waste of time and testing, unless you have tutors or are playing control or something. You have to find out by playing. The best thing that can happen is you draw the new card you’re super hyped about playing and it’s totally insane and wins you the game. That’s awesome, if it keeps happening you might really have something there. The second best thing that can happen is you draw it and it repeatedly does nothing. You’ve now learned that this card isn’t supposed to be there. Maybe it’s not well positioned or it’s just not good enough, either way, back on the shelf and back to the drawing board. This is what happens when I’m testing in a healthy way. It’s a frustrating and draining process but it pays dividends more often than not. What happens to a lot of people is different, however. Some may test similarly, some may not test at all. But they end up doing one of two things:

  1. Jam a bunch of shiny new cards with little logic as to why they’re there or how they work. This is usually a recipe for disaster but might work once in awhile. People who aren’t super dedicated or super invested will do this since they stand to lose less from uninformed decisions.
  2. Test some and get frustrated when the pieces don’t slot into place and then revert back to playing a tier one deck from the old format with no new cards outside of a couple random splashy things or slightly different sideboard cards. This is dangerous as well but less so than the previous fallacy. I think this is what befalls “good” players most in an early format. It might work cause the established good decks are in fact good and play the best cards in the format. You might be missing that edge that a few new cards could’ve provided. Or you might miss the busted open deck that nobody knows about (these exist less and less as technology and the magic hive mind grows even larger and more ubiquitous).

I used good in quotes in the above segment because the best players have a network full of feedback and trust their decisions and usually have the week one bullets that others have missed. Part of being good is a healthy approach to the game and playing scared isn’t healthy at all. It might be safest to play a virtually unchanged list of a previous tier one deck. You won’t miss by much that way. Which is to say that even if you’re not tuned to every nuance of the format you’re still playing a deck you know and know is good. Doing this if you’ve exhausted your other options and believe it’s correct is fine and can be a great decision. Doing this because you’re afraid to lose or look stupid with your new cards is bad. Years ago I wanted to get into poker. I told a great magic and poker player I knew that I had started playing 1/2 hold ’em at the casino and bragged about buying in for table minimum and leaving with between 2 and 4 times my entry the couple times I did it. He said “Don’t buy in for table minimum because you’ll make bad calls for pot odds.” Now I won’t get into this too much cause it’s a magic article and I’m clueless about poker. But when you go to a magic event you’ve likely booked a hotel, sometimes a flight, and (hopefully) preregistered. You’ve also invested time and effort into testing. Don’t make a bad call/play a bad deck cause you’re afraid to lose your investment. Don’t let the money already in the pot convince you that you have to make a certain play. Your time and effort is also an investment that will pay off if done right. It’s not always about the bottom line. We would play a different game if we only did this for the money. Basically, I’m saying that you should make healthy decisions when you approach deck selection. And not to worry if you missed one week. Don’t be afraid to try new things but don’t feel forced to either. The vast majority of the players end up playing way too many or way too few new cards. Week one standard can be really tough.

I enjoyed talking about tournament preparation and that portion of the article was as much for me as it was for you guys. I struggle to find the best choice week one. Those of you out there grinding should remember that your results in each event have no reflection on your value as a person. This took me so very long to learn this lesson. It’s still something that I struggle with and that I see many other players struggle with as well. It might seem ridiculous to say but success and failure in this game is often tied directly to your ability to make correct decisions in stressful situations. It’s easy to internalize failure and quantify defeat as a manifestation of your lack of intelligence or responsibility.  Your method of handling the ups and downs of traveling to play competitive magic almost weekly speaks to your ability to handle adversity and also, to handle success. But I’ll break our little circle up now, enough talking about feelings and stuff, there’s decklists coming!

Goblin Dark-DwellersI did what everyone should do once the spoiler went up and I built some decks with the new cards. I’m 5 days off from SCG Atlanta as of writing this and I have no clue what I’m playing. I haven’t tested Jeskai Aggro or Dark Jeskai with the new cards yet. I was saving those decks for last cause I know they’ll be at least okay if everything else is a disaster. The cards that will be great in those decks are somewhat obvious. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is nuts and if the deck has a reasonable spell count then this card is gonna be a great fit at the top of the curve. Chandra, Flamecaller is an awesome finisher and should be nice at the top of either version of Jeskai much like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was last year. Chandra might even get built around herself (hint, hint…). Stormchaser Mage and Reflector Mage aren’t auto includes the same way these cards are but they’re both very good cards. Stormchaser belongs in a dedicated prowess type deck and Reflector Mage could be everything Harbinger of the Tides wished it was in a tempo based Jeskai Aggro deck. I’m sure I’ll explore this soon enough. But first, the brews! I’ll post a few of the decks I’ve been tinkering around with for post Oath standard. Keep in mind, these aren’t my picks for the best deck or what I’m planning on playing. Just some interesting ideas that have some potential for exploration.

This feels like an evolution of the Megamorph strategy that’s even better against creature removal. The sideboard would be stacked with Disdainful strokes and Negates to combat Rally and Eldrazi Ramp. Not sure if this is even a good deck in the current meta but it’s definitely filled with some powerful cards and exciting synergies.

This deck is a totally new strategy. It’s viability hinges on how good Stormchaser Mage is. I think this is the deck to optimize Stormchaser and it’s going to be a strategy that several people will try this weekend. With 8 haste creatures and the Expedites to give Tasigur and Abbot haste this deck keeps the pressure on early. Jori En, Ruin Diver is a powerful engine with so many cheap spells. Casting a few prowess creatures early followed by a few removal spells leads to Jori En plus Tasigur or Murderous Cut on turn 4 regularly. Previous iterations I tested eschewed Tasigur for pump spells or Jace. While being powerful options in their own right, these cards are unable to help close the game and tax their removal like Tasigur can. An Expedite on a third turn Tasigur isn’t unusual at all and can be an unbeatable board presence. The amount of delve spells could be high but Magmatic Insight and fetchlands should help fuel delve. It’s possible this deck wants a third Tasigur as casting him and two other things on turn three is absurd and surprisingly common for this deck. This is a strategy that I keep coming back to in testing so it’s possible I could be battling with Grixis Prowess in Atlanta this weekend. Definitely find myself excited to see how this deck evolves in the metagame.

I went totally off the wall with this one. I think some of the new cards are very good for this deck. This might be terrible but hopefully the counterspells can leave ramp and rally off balance enough to close the door. I suspect those matchups are both dreadful though and consequentially wouldn’t recommend this deck just yet. When the cyclical metagame starts to move away from ramp and rally, likely after they’re hated out from being the best two decks, and creature based midrange decks like Abzan and Jeskai Black return to form is the time to bust out this sweet little number. I hope you enjoyed the new decklists I provided. Hopefully they can spice up your FNM or local testing gauntlet. Of the three lists I posted I think the Grixis Prowess deck is the closest to being a real strategy. That was something new, here’s something older. This deck is good against ramp and rally as well as having a solid Abzan matchup and a good Atarka Red matchup as well. If you expect a lot of Esper Dragons don’t sleeve this one. Otherwise, go crazy. America is awesome.

The new cards ended up in the sideboard of this deck more so than the main. I just want proven powerful aggressive cards for the main deck. The two negates will make sure you can slam the door against Rally the Ancestors and Eldrazi Ramp while providing some needed assistance against Esper Dragons/Control in game one. Also great against Jeskai Black. While there are a ton of powerful new cards there’s no definitive information source for what the new decks and new versions of decks should look like. I’m just hoping that the slightly untuned versions of my opponents decks won’t be able to beat the aggressive tempo based game this deck looks to play.

Well that’s all for this week. Come back next week and see how I did at SCG Atlanta. I can’t wait to see what this first week holds. If you have your own spicy brew or see something this weekend at your local store’s release party, let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading, everyone!

-Kevin Jones

The code of the Temurai.

dan ward feature image

So who likes ice cream? I do as well but I’m sorry to disappoint you as there is no Mint Chip or Cherry Garcia here. I have a Rocky Road of a brew that’s just as sweet and 100% fat free. I call it Temurai.

So what is Temurai?

Beastcaller Savant - Battle for Zendikar

Beastcaller Savant – Battle for Zendikar

Temurai is the combination of the Temur shard and Jeskai shard. With battle lands coming out everyone has been working to see how they can adapt past strategies and incorporate a few sweet cards from colors which before now, unable to play due to mana base issues. With being a true four color deck, it is important to have the right lands at all stages of the game. Let me delve into the main reason why this deck works. Mana dorks. Love them or hate them, in this deck they are the most essential piece of the puzzle. The first mana dork, Beastcaller Savant, is a 1/1 haste ally that allows you to play every creature in the deck and also is able to get in for a point of damage the turn you play it. The second mana dork is Rattleclaw Mystic. This Human shaman has traditionally shown up in the devotion decks in the last season. While being here for mana ramp, this creature also provides some trickery mid to late game. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this creature as bait, playing it for its morph cost and drawing a removal spell because my opponents would be scared of Den Protector.

The reason why this deck is so powerful are the creatures. While playing every color besides black, you have a bunch of hopeful creatures trying to make the team. I started with one of my favorite underplayed cards, Savage Knuckleblade. He is a super versatile threat that against some decks is unbeatable. With the ability to pump up, jump back to your hand when he is in danger, and turn sideways as soon as he hits the battlefield, he is great. Along with Mr. Knuckles at the three spot (converted mana cost), we have his buddy Mantis Rider. So while Knuckleblade takes care of things on the ground Mantis Rider is part of the vast Air Force in the deck. Mantis Rider is the staple creature in Jeskai and we are using it in the same way. It comes down early and provides a quick clock. It has evasion while still being able to block, sign me up this a deal, I always want to be apart of it.

Now its time for the beef of the deck. I choose to play eight dragons. Not only because they are cool and get the chicks, but because they are great in general and even better with this strategy. Thunderbreak Regent and Icefall Regent are as far apart as you can get (Fire/Ice), lucky they are on the same team this time. So having Thunderbreak being a threat that punishes your opponent for trying to kill him is great in this deck. The heart of this deck is a tempo deck and every life point matters. Taking Thunderbreak’s ability and being able to have that carry over to four other creatures is also very important. Thunderbreak being more aggressive his partner in crime Icefall Regent . Icefall Regent is much more controlling. In a format that is full of Mantis Rider’s and Hangerback Walkers it is important to have a answer to solve these problems. Guess what? Icefall does it and does it well. While being a 4/3 flying creature for 5 mana that is difficult to remove, this dragon also puts your opponents best creature on ice. Lots of puns during testing for this guy included Arnold as Mr. Freeze and us saying, “It’s time to chill!” mr freeze chill Last, but certainly not least, is the new toy Battle for Zendikar gave us. The Woodland Wanderer. This elemental brings a new meaning to powerful four drops. With the inclusion of all the mana dorks, this really could come down on turn three consistently as a 6/6. Having vigilance and trample, it provides you a with great blocker and also a battering ram of getting damage through. While testing this was the most powerful thing versus creature based decks. The other player has to either have a way to get rid of it, or you quickly win the game. Finally, a creature that can consistently beat up Siege Rhino is a huge perk.

Removal is important to have in any deck, but in this deck we are limited to a low number of slots due to the amount of creatures we run. For starters, I wanted a way to deal with the most powerful card in standard in my opinion, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. So the first thing that came to mind was Draconic Roar. I rode this card all the way to the top eight of GP San Diego with my Black/Red Dragons deck. Draconic Roar kills all of the early threats and by playing eight dragons, you also can utilize the second feature by dealing them 3 damage as well. After much testing my teammate and newly crowned hall of fame member Wily Edel advised me on playing two Jeskai Charms. The charm gives your small removal package and some diversity which is much needed. The ability to hit you opponent for 4 as an instant is great and some times needed to finish the game. However, the other two modes are also very powerful. Against faster decks in the format, life gain is very important if your on the draw. This spell is all around a solid A in my grading book. The best thing to take in to account while playing Jeskai Charm, it is impossible for your opponent to play around it. So you will often remove creature forever when you opponent sacrifices a fetch land [Note; Use mode; Put Target creature on top of its owner’s library”]. Your opponent will never expect it nor play around it. By far the weakest removal or card in the deck is Stubborn Denial. This card had mixed results in testing and we finally went with it because of the tremendous upside. So a Counterspell at one mana that only hits non-creature spells is OK at best. Now add that it only counters them if they don’t pay. Pretty mediocre right? However, the thought was that it is a protection spell for our big creatures. Having eleven creatures in the deck that trigger ferocious which turned it to be a hard counter for non-creature spells. So in conclusion, we felt like the games where we did draw this card, it made sure we closed the door on games that we were winning. Also, Stubborn Denial was very unexpected the first time we would play it in a match, which is always a good thing.

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After playing Temurai at the Pro Tour this past weekend I would like to say I had a lot of fun building, brewing, and playing this deck. I suggest picking it up if you like casting huge creatures early in the game and putting your opponents in tough spots. Moving forward, I would suggest adding a Stubborn denial to the sideboard. It was great in a lot of match ups and I always wanted to draw it. Depending on the meta you are expecting will dictate other changes. For example, if I play this at GP Quebec City, I would cut the Knuckleblades because there was so much G/W and decks with Hangarbacks, that it made it tough for this savage creature to connect. Replacements could be Ashcloud Pheonix, Skyrider Elf, or even Flamewake Pheonix depending how aggressive you want to be. I liked all the cards I played in the sideboard, and felt that in every match, some of the trouble cards for the deck are sweepers like Crux of Fate and Languish which is why we have counters. Also Wingmate Roc was a bit of a pain to deal with, so make sure you have a plan for that. Lastly, make sure you follow the true Bushido code while playing this deck and turn your creatures side ways and never retreat. Also checkout my deck tech (See below) and if you have any more questions feel free to message me on Facebook or Twitter @Bigward28. ‘Till next time.

See the deck list here.

Battle for Zendikar Fat Pack Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

FAQ:

Q: Is there any cost, other then answering the questions above, to me if I win this fat pack?
A: No. There is no cost whatsoever to you at all. Whoever the winner is will receive this fat pack from us, completely for free!

Q: When does this promotion end?
A: It ends November 15th, 2015 at 8PM EST. We will randomly pick a winner within 24 hours of that. We should have the shipping address already so we will mail it out first thing Monday morning. If we think something is wrong about the address, we will contact you!

Q: 24 whole hours to pick a winner? What the heck, this is 2015, not the 1900’s! What could take you so long!?
A: Well, its true, it is 2015. We normally have a winner chosen roughly two to three minutes after the end of contest. We know that sometimes life happens and want to be sure everyone knows it may take 24 hours for us to push a button that reads, “Choose winner?”

Q: I don’t live local? How am I going to get the Battle for Zendikar Fat Pack?
A: We will mail the fat pack anywhere in the United States! Please remember that this contest is only for people within the United States, as we can not mail any Magic the Gathering product outside of the United States for any reason.

Q: This seems too good to be true? All I have to do is answer three questions and I may win a Fat Pack? for free? mailed to me?
A: Yes. One random entry will be selected at the end of the contest, we encourage everyone to enter multiple times to maybe push Lady Luck on their side. Odds of winning are determined by the number of entries we receive.

If you have any questions about this contest, please feel free to email us at events@kirwansgamestore.com

Kevin Jones foresees BFZ cards from SCG Indy

Kevin Jones Banner

Greetings, fellow Mantis Riders! I’m writing this on a Tuesday and the results for the inaugural standard events with Battle for Zendikar (order some here) are in the books. I’m nothing if not arrogant so on Friday I decided to write down five predictions I had for this past weekends SCG Indianapolis open and the new standard format. Today I pulled out my list so we can explore how I did and the implications of what we learned Saturday and Sunday. So let’s hop to it!

Prediction number 1:
75% (6 of the 8) of the top 8 decks will be known archetypes from the previous format (red, Abzan, Jeskai, Esper, etc).

Verdict: I was basically right! Here’s the top 8 decks
2 Black Jeskai
2 Esper Dragons
1 Five color Bring to Light
1 Atarka Red
1 Green White Megamorph
1 Abzan Control

Five of the eight decks are actually the new versions of old decks from the previous format. Two decks are an old archetype splashing a 4th color, made possible by the awesome mana in this new format. One deck, Gerry Thompson’s 5 color bring to light, is completely new. I expected that the three color decks would incorporate splashes. The fourth color allows for a fetch/dual manabase and makes the mana better than three color tri-land pain land mana bases. Jeskai incorporating Butcher of the Horde and Crackling Doom is a pretty intuitive leap for people to make. GW Megamorph is the deck Michael Majors piloted to second place in the open. GW Aggro was a deck in the previous format, albeit an underplayed one. It usually played four copies of Collected Company and Mastery of the Unseen for lifegain and inevitability. This deck is fairly similar but it naturally wanted to include Hangarback Walker and thus elected to eschew Collected Company and the restrictive applications it has on deck building. I completely agree with this decision since I think Hangarback Walker is great in this deck and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a better payoff at four mana than Company anyway. I also would shy away from Company because it’s slow against Atarka Red and bad against counterspells and I think Silumgar’s Scorn and Atarka’s Command are two of the pillars of the new format. So that’s an example of very effective and efficient forecasting of the metagame. Some readers will astutely pick up on the fact that the four drop Collected Company is replaced with another four drop in Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The difference is that Gideon attacks from another angle, actually multiple other angles. It’s a planeswalker that poses a difficult to kill threat, a steady stream of tokens when at parity, and lastly, an immediate and unkillable Glorious Anthem. The last mode is the one least often used in the Jeskai builds I’ve been playing Gideon in. However, it’s arguably the most potent mode in Majors’ GW deck. Your wingmates dodge Languish, your [/card]Den Protector[/card]s become harder to block, and you can deploy additional Hangarback Walkers to the field for the low cost of free99! Now that’s some value if I do say so myself. Now, despite the impressive deckbuilding and theorycrafting evident in Michael’s deck and his process, I have several predictions left to assess. One prediction came true so far, on to the next one!

Prediction number 2: Over ten copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the top 8 of SCG Indy.

Verdict: I was right again! 11 copies cracked the top 8. 4 in Brad Caroenter’s Abzan Control deck, 4 in Majors’ GW deck, and 3 in Adam Varner’s Jeskai Black deck (ohhh yeahhh Jeskai). I thought that players would hesitate to play 4 copies since the card is fairly hard to kill for a 4 mana Planeswalker. But evidently, the fact that you can immediately cash in your active Gideon for an emblem before casting a redundant copy means it is one of the few walkers that isn’t bad in multiples. Gideon is very powerful and will help define the format for the foreseeable future, likely his whole tenure in standard. I expected four decks with three copies, maybe one with two, leaving us at around 11-12 copies. We got 11 copies from 3 decks (4,4,3) which is similar to what I expected to have happen. 2 for 2 on predictions, if I was as good at softball as I am at guessing obscure facts about formats I might have some non magic related hardware on the mantle. But alas, moving on.

Prediction number 3: 0 Eldrazi ramp decks in the top 8 of scg Indy.

Verdict: Right again! He’s on fire! I couldn’t write that without hearing it in the announcer voice from NBA Hangtime, the classic N64 game from the late 90s. But anyway, this prediction was one of the safest ones. I was almost positive ramp would either underperform, be virtually unplayed, or both. Everyone was accustomed to ramp decks being creature based like the devotion decks from the previous format. I think the new ramp decks are likely built around Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Hedron Archive. They seek to ramp aggressively and land Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as quickly as possible. In a format likely to be defined by Valorous Stance, Abzan Charm, and Crackling Doom the payoff isn’t quite high enough on the other expensive creatures. Though Oblivion Sower is really sweet I’m not sure he can carry an archetype that some believe is intentionally under supported with only one set legal from the block so far. It’s better for everyone if the format shakes up and evolves as the new set releases this winter. So consequently, making the Eldrazi deck good in the first set isn’t as valuable a quantity with regards to the format as making it good upon release of the second set is. It forces everyone to reevaluate all the cards again in a different subjective context. Which will change all the other other cards’ values because they were best against strategies that falter in the face of effective and powerful ramp decks. Just an example but it can happen pretty easily and I think wizards is absolutely intentional about the order in which certain cards are released. Some real life context is last winter, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon’s release in Fate Reforged added a powerful weapon for control decks and ramp decks. I also don’t think Whip of Erebos and Jeskai Ascendancy/Hordeling Outburst would’ve faced off in top four of worlds if Ugin was legal at the time. Ugin ended up being one of the most unbeatable cards for Jeskai tokens as well as Whip decks. But, those decks were great, that match was great, and I, for one, an glad we get to explore every stage of a format’s development. And on to the next prediction!

Prediction number 4: Monastery Mentor and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker will both show up in a top 8 deck from the open.

Verdict: Wrong!!! Well, you can’t be perfect I guess. I thought both of these cards stood to gain a ton of stock from the rotation. Sarkhan is a Stormbreath Dragon a lot of the time that can be a removal spell in a pinch. A five drop threat that is immune to Ojutai’s Command and Valorous Stance as well as most damage based removal is very well positioned in the theoretical new metagame. One of the Jeskai decks topped out at Dragonlord Ojutai and the other didn’t go past four mana besides Dig. So maybe everyone anticipated a room full of Crackling Doom and Abzan Charm. But even then you’re not much better off with Ojutai and could even theoretically fare worse. Sarkhan is also very good against Gideon as well. Kills it immediately when you’re on the play. I still think this one is well positioned, be ready for it to show up again. As for Monastery Mentor, the card gained a ton from the rotation of several top tier two mana removal spells. Also, the format seems to be defined by larger powerful creatures (Rhinos, Anafenza, and Dragons) several of which are multicolored. Which means even though Ultimate Price didn’t rotate yet it’s inclusion into main decks is a slight liability. You could see a copy or two of Ultimate Price in lists but all it takes is one unchecked turn with a live Mentor to mount a scarily large advantage. It’s less likely your opponents will have price early if they even have it at all. So I feel like this card will rarely instantly die as it has in the past. It technically dies to Wild Slash and Fiery Impulse but it’s fairly easy to save your own copy of the same type of card for a prowess trigger in a pinch. The reason this card is constantly underplayed is there’s a fairly low floor for the card if you can’t guarantee to have a stream of spells. It’s just a 2/2 which won’t cut it. For these reasons you can’t just slot it into any white deck. There needs to be some attempt at synergy. Jeskai would be a great fit for both of these cards and while scouring lists I found Michael Bernat’s 21st place black Jeskai list from the Indy open that included two copies of Monastery Mentor and one copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Hats off to you for the finish, Michael. If only you could’ve cracked the top 8 and made me look like a true seer. One more prediction to go!

Prediction number 5: Thunderbreak Regent will be overplayed and underperform.

Verdict: half and half on this one. If you’re asking how someone can be both right and wrong I’ll explain. My actual guess about the format was that the Draconic Roar/Thunderbreak deck that has been good in the past is just very poorly positioned. Whether it’s Mardu, Jeskai, or RB it still feels like roar doesn’t actually kill many creatures that matter that don’t already die to Wild Slash or Ultimate Price (Mantis Rider too powerful). The incremental damage from roar and regent triggers should be good when everyone is taking additional damage from their mana. And it is, but Thunderbreak just lines up poorly against the best current removal, especially crackling doom. It’s just too easy to build the dragons decks which is why I thought they would be overplayed. It’s also too likely that your dragon will die to a spell way cheaper than the amount of mana you invested in it. That’s why I think they’ll underperform. Ojutai and Silumgar, the Drifting Death are the only exceptions. Their hexproof allows you to minimize the chances of losing a 5/6 mana investment to a 2/3 mana spell. Now, the way in which I was proven wrong is interesting. The winning Atarka red list played Hangarback Walker and Thunderbreak Regent in the sideboard. He would board in Hangarback and Regent to combat sweepers like Radiant Flames and to have a reasonable amount if threats that can win the game on their own. I’m a huge fan of sideboard plans like this. Invalidating your opponents’ best cards is the goal of sideboarding in general. So I was wrong because the card won the tournament but there was exactly one Regent/Roar deck in top 32. The 31st place Jeskai Dragons deck. Let’s call it a push. 3.5/5 isn’t too bad.

That’s all I’ve got this week. If you enjoyed this one you’re in luck because I’ll be writing a weekly article about constructed. Usually standard but I might throw an eternal format in there from time to time. I’ve started a podcast of sorts where I ramble to myself while driving. You might ultimately be able to find that here, provided it isn’t rife with abject vulgarity and weirdness. Thanks for hanging out, see everyone next week! If you need anything for upcoming tournaments, use coupon code KEVINJONES for 5% off your order here.

Battling For Zendikar

Josh banner

Playing Magic has come to a somewhat abrupt halt, but I can still write about it right? God gave me two hands and a brain. They function sometimes…. but for this article I just wanted to touch on a few things I see past all of the shiny things Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) has brought us. Everyone loves the prospect of casting huge unbeatable creatures! Casting See the Unwritten and netting two awesome creatures is living the dream, but that dream requires a lot of things to fall in your favor. Without Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid the green ramp decks of the past don’t have the tools to stop the fast starts the red decks are bringing.

What I am bringing to the table today is a few outside of the box aggressive decks. Everyone knows how to build a mono red decks. These lists will simply be ideas for decks. There won’t be 60-75 cards but a simple list of cards and theories behind them.

Red Green LANDFALL

Every time I think about this deck I see promise. Something about this deck idea keeps drawing me back. Here is what I feel are the mandatory cards in the deck:

Scythe LeopardSnapping GnarlidUndergrowth ChampionAkoum FirebirdAtarka’s Command

Atarka's Command

Atarka’s Command

The thing that really gets me about this list is Atarka’s Command. Everyone read, “…you may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield..” and shrugged it off pretty easily. But, now it could be the best mode in this deck. Two mana to bolt your opponent, trigger landfall, and/or give your team +1/+1? Seems fine. I have dreams of three fetchlands, Scythe Leopard, basic Forest, Snapping Gnarlid, and Atarka’s Command. That’s four land and a three spell hand that I am salivating over. That’s a turn two attack for 3 (Wild Nacatl anyone?) play a two drop. Untap play a fetch trigger landfall. Attack, Atarka’s Command to bolt your opponent and play a land. Crack both of your fetches and deal 14 damage with only 3 spells. 17 total damage on turn three. The Undergrowth Champion gaining permanent buffs from your land drops and the Akoum Firebird giving you access to a longer game seem awesome.

Cards that I am considering as filler for the deck:

Monastery SwiftspearLightning BerserkerDragonmaster OutcastAbbot of Keral KeepDen Protector
Makindi SliderunnerAKOUM STONEWAKERTunneling GeopedeDeathmist RaptorScab-Clan Berserker
Goblin HeelcutterGrove RumblerWild SlashTitan’s StrengthMight of the Masses
Dragon FodderSwell of GrowthHordeling OutburstExquisite FirecraftNissa, Vastwood Seer
Nissa, Sage Animist

This deck wants to be aggressive in my opinion. Berserker works well with extra lands Abbot helps find more spells and lands. Nissa finds you a land for your landfall Berserker helps keep non creature spells at bay. Heelcutter helping to push damage. Tokens and burn spells seem fine as well.

This next deck is an archetype that never quite took off. There are many powerful cards but a few factors really held the deck back. One of those factors still hasn’t gone away. But I don’t believe it to be as prominent as it was before.

TEMUR

I solemnly swear, that Savage Knuckleblade is the truth. I mean have you read the text box? No? That’s fine. Everyone keeps getting lost in Trample, When Siege Rhino enters the battlefield, each opponent loses 3 life and you gain 3 life. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We got it. It’s pretty good, but you’ve had your time in the limelight. It’s time for a 3 mana 4/4 with a possible haste, +2/+2, and the ability to dodge removal and wraths? Sign me up. The other cards I am pretty excited are Crater’s Claws and Stubborn Denial. We currently live in a world where the wrath effects cost 5 or are conditional. Those work very well for us when we have a 1 mana hard Counterspell. Everyone is playing spells that cost a million mana? Hello Disdainful Stroke. People trying to play little red creatures? Hello Radiant Flames and Feed the Clan. Everyone trying to play control? Well we have more efficient creatures, counterspells, and Planeswalkers. This in my opinion is one of the harder decks to build but if you found the correct build, I believe that this is where you want to be.

Cards that I am locked into playing:

Rattleclaw MysticSavage KnucklebladeSurrak, The Hunt CallerStubborn DenialTemur Charm
Disdainful StrokeCrater’s ClawsKiora, Master of the DepthsSarkhan, the DragonspeakerSarkhan Unbroken

These are your bread and butter. The main ingredients to your deck. Things you cannot live without. But do we want to be more aggressive or more midrange?

If I were to choose the more aggressive line I would consider:

Heir of the WildsFrost WalkerAvatar of the ResoluteAbbot of Keral KeepDragon Whisperer
Harbinger of the TidesFlamewake PhoenixBounding KrasisYasova DragonclawScab-Clan Berserker
Shaman of the Great HuntSurrak, the Hunt CallerAvaricious DragonIcefall RegentHooting Mandrills
Hordeling OutburstExquisite FirecraftCollected Company

If I were to shift more to a midrange build I would include:

Beastcaller SavantStratus DancerAkoum FirebirdWoodland WandererGreenwarden of Murasa
Omnath, Locus of RageDragonlord AtarkaWhisperwood ElementalShaman of Forgotten WaysDen Protector
Deathmist RaptorAshcloud PhoenixSurrak DragonclawSagu MaulerGaea’s Revenge
Jace, Vryn’s ProdigyNissa, Vastwood SeerPia and Kiran NalaarWoodland BellowerDig Through Time

As you can see there are a large number of cards I would love to put into a deck. Some that would honestly fit into both lists. Akoum Firebird and Ashcloud Phoenix I really believe fit into both. I believe I still sideboard Gaea’s Revenge in both lists.

This would be my first draft of an aggressive list:

Now these numbers are just a first draft but I believe that this deck looks pretty good. With some testing and finalization of numbers you could have a very good deck on your hands.

As I write this other combinations are flowing into my mind.

Dragonlord Ojutai and Sandstone Bridge or Kiora, Master of Depths.

A U/G Collected Company deck featuring: Harbinger of the Tides, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Bounding Krasis, Deathmist Raptor, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Stratus Dancer, and Kiora, Master of Depths could be really sweet.

Siege Rhino +71 other cards is going to be good still. Mantis Rider plus burn spells is also still going to be good. Mono Red is going to be good. Seriously people were trying to avoid being #basic right now. 

Note: this article was written while sipping a pumpkin spice coffee chilling with an Ugg on one foot and a Croc on the other.

Thanks for reading again guys hope you enjoy the article and we can finally put Savage Knuckleblade on the top of the podium where he belongs!

Stay hungry and humble!
-JP-